BIBLICAL THOUGHT – 1
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”—Galatians 2:20
In the previous article, I wrote about how Jesus’ sacrifice casts us into a life where we do not have to sacrifice ourselves in order to be saved. We do not have to pray to some saint; we do not have to discipline ourselves in order to please God. Because of Jesus, we are freed for life—for a life of freedom and assurance in the salvation Christ provided for all who believe! What results from this is gratitude.
At the heart of the Christian experience of salvation is gratitude. Since the day God created the world and planted in the Garden of Eden the tree of life, humans were to experience life in the context of gratitude. Adam and Eve did not have life in themselves. They were completely dependent on God for life. And this is why the first command God gave them was: eat freely! The gift of life was always tied to the gift of food, and both life and food were given by God. This way, every time Adam and Eve reached for the fruit of life, they did so in gratitude to the God who provided life.
When Paul concludes that he has been crucified with Christ, he is not only expressing a theological conviction; he is expressing gratitude! What he and all of Israel were unable to do through the law, Christ had done through His death. Jesus made a way for us to reach out toward the tree of life and eat the fruit once again. Thus, the way of belief and faith is paved by gratitude. And gratitude appears at the very moment we recognize that we do not have life in ourselves, at the very moment we recognize it is because of Christ that we have life, and life in abundance.
Before Jesus died, He reminded the disciples of this very truth. He gave thanks, broke bread, and served wine— the symbols of His sacrifice for humanity. He gave thanks. The food He served was given and received in gratitude. Through the bread and the wine Jesus provided a door back to paradise and into salvation.
As you sit at the table with loved ones at home and in your church, may you remember that this experience is a remembrance of Eden. In Eden there was food, God, people, and gratitude for life. Christ loved us, and Christ gave Himself for us, so in gratitude, may we live in the same way toward each other.
I love how John writes about this in his epistle: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.” Gratitude to God for life brings us to the table where we find our brothers and sisters, where we find food in abundance for all, and where we find God Himself, the giver of food, salvation, and life.
My dear reader, may your days on this earth be lived in gratitude.
BIBLICAL THOUGHT – 2
“I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?”—Galatians 3:2–3
Can you feel the pain in Paul’s heart in these words? Read them again! It is as if you have just spent days teaching your children to ride a bike. And even after feeling the security of trusting your guidance and the freedom of riding the bike, they have gone back many steps to the point of thinking that true joy is found in walking beside the bike. They had experienced freedom; now they feel fear. To experience freedom in the Spirit through the new birth in Christ is the foundation of the Christian journey. Everything after the experience of this work of God in us is a consequence. Either we understand that salvation is through our works, or we embrace the gospel truth that salvation is only through the work of God.
The temptation to think we contribute to our salvation is ancient. It is found throughout history in virtually all pagan religions. It is at the heart of idolatry. It is the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. It is thinking that God needs our help and that His actions for us are insufficient. Jesus subverts this mechanism and teaches that small is the door and narrow is the gate that leads to the true life. And He is the small door, He is the narrow way, and nothing passes through the door except you, my dear reader, and Jesus. None of your many efforts and righteous deeds will save you.Your time in church or the safety of your denomination will not save you. The temptation to think this is not possible is also great.
Across the world, Christianity has been presented, in practice, very similarly to idolatry. We treat God as an idol, offering Him many sacrifices in order to gain some blessing, some gift, or salvation itself. Oh that we could experience the joy, the freedom of knowing that salvation is only through the work of God in Jesus for us. Oh to experience that peace and assurance that only in Him, and through the action of His Spirit in us, will we naturally grow in love and in works of love toward others. Soren Kierkegaard wrote it well: “No work can be pleasing in heaven unless it is a work of love.” Why? Because it flows from a heart that has accepted that we can do nothing for our salvation. And as we open ourselves to the work of God in us, God eventually will work through us for others.
My dear reader, may you be sensitive to the ancient temptation Paul was fighting in Galatia: the temptation of thinking that we can help God in the process of our salvation, that the small door and narrow way is a teaching about how we must sacrifice many things for God instead of fully accepting His sacrifice for us. Having begun in the Spirit, may you be perfected in the Spirit. For wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, says Paul, there is freedom.
Tiago Arrais, PhD, is a district pastor in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA.